Where Selves Are Mere Appearance: A Translation of Being, Agency, and Ethics in AI and Buddhism

Thomas Doctor
Rangjung Yeshe Institute Foundation, Inc.

Project Summary

The Buddhist doctrine of no-self is a key Buddhist concept. According to Buddhist beliefs, all causal entities exist by virtue of their relations, as opposed to having an enduring essence. On the surface, this concept appears orthogonal to the pressing needs of AI implementation. But a closer look shows something else.

By revealing how deeply interconnected we all are, Buddhism provides a system of moral reasoning and practices to inform decisions aimed at well-being and happiness. This Diverse Intelligences project will apply Buddhist concepts of interconnected networks of sentient agency to AI issues. 

The Center for the Study of Apparent Selves seeks to create an academically rigorous translational handbook that pairs key concepts in Buddhism with real-world AI issues. These include moral decisions, unexpected consequences, and human flourishing. This initiative, directed by Thomas Doctor, aims to incorporate the models and wisdom of Buddhism in a practical, effective way. 

The resulting model will be communicated and tested via workshops and publications.

Project Details

Project Duration

1 March 20201 August 2022

Core Funding Area

Big Questions


Diverse Intelligences

Region of Activity


TWCF Number


Amount Awarded



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